French take up Cook's arms challenge

Jack Lang, the President of the French Foreign Affairs Committee, is encouraging the new French Socialist government to follow Tony Blair's lead. Inspired by the "humanity and intelligence" of the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, with regard to his policy on arms sales, Mr Lang has written to the French Foreign and Defence Ministers, Hubert Vedrine and Alain Richard, asking them to do it by the "Cook" book.

On 28 July Mr Cook announced that Britain would stop all arms sales to countries with a poor record on human rights. He also laid down measures for the publication of an annual report on arms exports from Britain and made proposals for a European "code of conduct" on the subject.

The Foreign Secretary has announced his intention to ban the manufacture and sale of all landmines in Britain, as well as destroying all present stocks. Both he and Mr Blair have supported Diana, Princess of Wales's anti-landmine campaign, which she continued most recently in Bosnia.

In a letter made public on Monday, Mr Lang describes the Cook proposals as "an excellent idea" which was "closely linked to our own convictions". He wants to see the two countries working in close consultation on the issues and believes France ought to adopt similar measures, suggesting two major changes in the present French policy on arms.

France currently sells arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia, all known for their poor human rights record. Mr Lang urges the new Socialist government to ban all arms exports to such repressive regimes, and to continue sales only to countries which pose no risk to international peace or to the safety of their own citizens.

He also recommends that new legislation be passed on landmines, including the modification of a law passed in 1996 by Alain Juppe's right-wing government. As it now stands, the law prohibits, at least in theory, the use of all landmines by the French army. However, they may still be used "in exceptional circumstances for the protection of the French forces". Mr Lang wants this clause scrapped and favours "the complete destruction" of all land mines in France.

In the same vein as Mr Cook's policy on arms export, which is based on the protection of human rights, Mr Lang emphasises in his letter the need for a foreign policy that incorporates a "new ethical vision and a desire for peace".

Mr Lang said he was "extremely impressed" by Mr Blair's approach, and very optimistic for Britain's future under New Labour, which he feels has a "brand new air about it". He describes Mr Blair as "young and full of enthusiasm" and draws parallels between Britain in 1997 and France in 1981, when Francois Mitterrand, France's first Socialist president, came to power after two decades of right-wing rule in an atmosphere of hope and enthusiasm.

There has as yet been no official response to Mr Lang from the French ministers, who are away on holiday. But it is unlikely they will refuse these proposals. Mr Lang is confident the French government will accept them, in accordance with their belief in "social justice".

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